TRAVEL is one of the sectors most affected by the lockdowns imposed by countries in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. With borders closed and travel restricted, travel and travel-related players are feeling the brunt of an industry put on pause.
Many have scaled back their operations, changed their business model or have been put out of business. It is, no doubt, a challenging period for them – even for the ones that are digital-based.
Like others in the industry, travel tech firm Tourplus saw its business plunged to zero with the implementation of the movement control order (MCO) last March.
Tourplus is an online marketplace for travellers to plan their holiday with access to local guides.
Prior to Covid-19, Tourplus had focused on inbound tourism and was progressing with an upward growth rate. But when borders were closed, inbound foreign tourism stopped.
But Tourplus’ digital model and infrastructure enabled them to look at other avenues to survive.
“To stay afloat during the MCO, we tried pivoting to various different business models that will bring in revenue. We do grocery delivery, frozen food delivery, trying to stay afloat while hoping for the Covid situation to recover, ” shares Tourplus founder and chief executive officer Rickson Goh.
However, Goh says it soon dawned on the team that both inbound and outbound tourism activities will not be able to recover any time soon as there was no information on when international travel could resume.
“After weighing all the predicaments, we decided to venture into domestic tourism which we believe to be the only key avenue for us to maintain afloat within the next 12 months. Hence, we enhanced our Tourplus App 2.0 to include a function that allows domestic travellers to discover local hidden gems that are shared by local people, ” says Goh.
The company also pivoted into becoming a digital solution provider for other players in the tourism sector as businesses – many of them SMEs – scrambled to get on the digital bandwagon.
“We ventured into a new business extension helping local SMEs digitise their business and allow travellers to discover them online.”
With the bigger push for digitalisation, it will also pave the way for tech companies like Tourplus to be at the forefront of the recovery in the tourism industry.
“We are prepared for tourism to recover and we believe the future of tourism will be more personalised, on demand and digitalised.
“Travel tech will be key to the new travel industry post-Covid as more people will get used to online shopping and app features like QR code scanning when paying for a purchase.
“These behaviours will be the foundation for the future travel trend, ” Goh explains.
These new practices will include scanning of QR code when buying tickets at the counter, using QR code tickets to prevent touching and ensure social distancing, easy access to digital travel information and checking into hotels using mobile apps.
“All these are the foreseeable travel technologies that will impact consumer travel. However, it will also impact how businesses operate, like using artificial intelligence-driven customer support, big data to analyse customer behaviour, streamlining of business processes with technology like e-ticket, payment on e-wallet, virtual reality technology and so on, ” he says.
Moving forward, the company is building on its position as a travel information platform.
Notably, there are already a host of platforms available in the market that offer consumers a wide variety of products, services and information.
But Goh says Tourplus is looking to use content to drive traffic to merchants and increase bookings or cash voucher purchases through its app rather than build another marketplace for travel. It intends to showcase local places that are below the radar to give it an edge.
Tourplus recently brought on board Chan Huan Gee to serve as its chief operations officer to look into business development and merchant acquisition to hit its target revenue for 2021. Chan was previously Agoda Malaysia’s country director.
Goh also notes that the company’s operations in Malaysia will provide it with insights to build upon as it looks to eventually grow into the region.
“Our plan is to have a captive Malaysian market and later expand beyond our shores. We are also building a personalised engine where we show different content to different users as part of the plan to grow into Asean countries.
“We plan to expand into the Asean region starting at the end of this year and covering the whole Asean region within five years, ” says Goh.
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